An unknown story – the 1921 ban on women’s football
Posted on 17th September 2021
As many FSA members will know, 2021 is an historic year for the women’s game, marking 100 years since the FA banned women’s football and also 50 years since that ban was lifted.
It’s a story that wasn’t really known but, thanks to the growth in popularity of the women’s game, more and more people are asking why such a thing happened and what its long term effects were.
To mark the centenary of the ban we’ll continue to showcase all that’s good about the women’s game – and that doesn’t just mean encouraging people to get along to games or celebrating work by our affiliated fan groups. It also means highlighting the wider cultural impact of women’s football.
That’s especially important for staunch supporters of the women’s game, as well as younger girls getting into football, who might not have so many stories and relatable role models appearing in the media. So we’ve rounded up all the interesting books, plays and videos we’ve seen which look at the ban.
Plays and performances
- Atalanta Forever – It’s 1921 and Huddersfield amateurs Ethel and Annie kick back at the doubters as “plucky underdogs” Atalanta Forever prepare to take on Dick, Kerr Ladies – one of the best sides of their day. Move quickly if you want to catch Atalanta Forever – the last showing is Sunday 19th September in Huddersfield.
- Rough Girls – the untold story of Belfast women who stepped onto a pitch in “society-shocking shorts and footie boots, a ball at their feet and a point to prove”. Described as the “suffragettes of soccer” the play is set in Belfast during 1917-21 and shows are running until Saturday 25th September at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre.
- The About Time Dance Company will be performing Quite Unfit for Females outdoors on Sat 18th September at the Lancashire Encounter Festival. It’s a dance exploration of the aforementioned Dick, Kerr Ladies.
- Sweet FA – a dramatic production telling the story of a women’s factory football team during WW1. “The songs are grand, the live music heart-warming, and the team spirit of the company a joy to experience,” said The Scotsman in its 4* review. Unfortunately the run has now ended but keep an eye out on their Twitter feed @sweetfashow for any future news.
- Wor Bella tells the story of the WW1 Munitionettes who not only served the war effort on the home front but also played football to raise money for charity. Hundreds of Munitionette teams were formed nationally, creating stars such as Blyth Spartan’s Ladies’ striker Bella Reay who scored a remarkable 133 goals in 30 matches. The play will tour north east England’s theatres in March/April 2022.
Books and video:
- Dick, Kerr Girls – Waterstones: “The remarkable story of the Dick, Kerr Ladies is brought to young readers for the very first time by award winning author Eve Ainsworth. It’s 1917, and Britain is at war. Shy teenager Hettie wants to help the war effort, and signs up to work in the local Dick, Kerr & Co. munitions factory. She’s nervous, but she has no idea quite how much her life is about to change … For, inside this factory are young women who are about to make sporting history. Can Hettie find the courage to join them, and in doing so, find her own place in the world?”
- Lily and the Rocket tells the story of a 14-year-old girl who is determined to compete in spite of the FA’s ban on women’s football. “A story about football, friendship and feminism,” says author Rebecca Stevens. “Although the central character in my story didn’t exist, I borrowed her name from Lily Parr, who many think was the greatest female player of all time. Lily scored forty-three goals in her first season for Dick, Kerr Ladies and more than a thousand throughout her career.” Suitable for kids 9+.
- My Mummy is a Footballer – “A colourful rhyming picture book about a mummy’s life as a footballer, told through the eyes of a child,” says Waterstones. There aren’t many books in this genre aimed at much younger kids so we’re more than happy to give it a plug.
- Stoppage Time: Women’s football in Sheffield before the 1921 ban – this YouTube video by Football Unites, Racism Divides tours round five venues in Sheffield where women’s football matches were played between 1895 and 1921.
We wouldn’t claim this list is exhaustive so if you think we’ve missed an interesting book, play, film or video which relates to the 1921 ban then let us know. We’d be happy to add it to the list.